What a difference a year makes for Beckett

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What a difference a year makes for Beckett

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK -- A year ago, Josh Beckett's worst season in the big leagues seemed to begin with a poor start against the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox starter slipped on a wet mound during a rainy night on May 18, wrenching his back and sending his spiraling season into disappointment.

It would be more than two months before Beckett would pitch again after that fateful night, and even then, he wasn't very good. In five starts against the Yankees, Beckett was 1-2 with a 10.64 ERA.

This year, in stark contrast, Beckett has re-established himself as an elite pitcher. He sports a microscopic ERA of 1.75 and has a current scoreless streak of 18 innings.

And, though wouldn't you know it, it may well have been a start against the Yankees in the second week of the season that keyed his turnaround.

That dominance continued Saturday night when Beckett blanked the Yankees on four hits over six innings, pacing the Red Sox 6-0 win over New York.

The Sox have beaten the Yankees four times in 2011; twice, Beckett has been the pitcher of record.

"That's a tough lineup,'' said Beckett. "There's not many holes there.''

Beckett, however, has toyed with the Yankees twice in two starts. In his first home start on April 10, he allowed just two hits over eight innings while striking out 10.

Saturday, with his pitch count pushed upward, he was going to go out for the bottom of the seventh until his teammates took a 2-0 lead and made it 6-0 in the top of the inning.

By then, there was nothing left to prove.

The same guy seemingly incapable of beating the Yankees last year now suddenly can't lose.

What's most impressive -- and encouraging, for the Red Sox -- is that Beckett took a different approach to the Yankees this time than he did when he faced them the first time.

"I didn't have the curve ball that I had when I faced them in Boston,'' said Beckett. "We kept throwing it, though. I felt like I made pitches when I needed to.''

"Tonight, we made some adjustments,'' echoed catcher Jason Varitek. "We pitched a little bit different than we did the first time. He had a good changeup and we were able to use it to both the lefties and righties.''

Working out of jams in the first inning -- two on, none out -- third -- two on, two out -- and fifth innnig -- two on, one out -- were all keys, but none was more important than wiggling out of trouble in the first.

Just two hitters in, with a single to center by Derek Jeter and a line single to right by Curtis Granderson, the Yankees already had as many hits as they gathered in eight innings when they faced him last month.

"The most important out in those innings is the first,'' said Beckett. "It's a lot harder to manufacture a run with one out that it is than no outs.''

So Beckett's strikeout of Mark Teixeira -- followed in short order by a popup by Alex Rodriguez and another strikeout to Robinson Cano -- started it out.

The Yankees didn't know it, but their best chance had come and gone in the first inning. After that, Beckett allowed just four more baserunners over his final five innings. No Yankee reached third base against him.

"It's nice to pitch,'' said Beckett, allowing himself the smallest bit of satisfaction. "It would have been a little bit better if I could eliminate a walk and pitched into the seventh.''

Those are the words of a perfectionist. But if you're looking for evidence that Beckett is again a front-of-the-rotation starter, you need look no further than his results against the team against whom he could do no right a year ago.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.